Monday, April 16, 2012

Kopi Talk A Coffee Shop With A Cause

While ''coffeeshop culture'' has already pervaded the Philippine metropolitan society, no thanks to foreign coffee shop franchises, a more relevant and meaningful type of ''culture'' is being promoted by this local café.
In this café, every cup of coffee, every slice of cake that the customer buys benefits the schooling of underprivileged children from several Indigenous Peoples (IP) communities.
Called Advocafé, this unique coffee shop doesn't just offer ordinary products but promotes the organic products of different IP groups in the Philippines, such as coffee that the Igorots grow in the Cordillera Region, calamansi juice produced by the Mangyan tribe of Mindoro, and the different teas planted by the Tagbanua tribe of Palawan.
Located on the ground floor of the Ramon Magsaysay Commercial Complex in Malate, Manila, the café offers healthy and organic products of IPs from different parts of the country.
''All the products are produced and made by IPs, from the coffee, to the pastries because our crew here are all katutubo,'' explains Benjamin Abadiano.
Abadiano, president of the Ilawan Center for Volunteerism and Leaderhip, is the prime mover behind Advocafé. Ilawan is a non-profit organization that aims to promote the culture and rights of the IPs. The organization, with the help of their partners, has already built schools and supported community schools from preschool to college to serve the educational needs of the IPs in the country.
In 2010, what was originally planned as a simple store to market the products of the IPs, became a full-fledged coffee shop.
''This has been a dream for us. We originally wanted a marketing center for the products but we thought that people won't buy our products everyday so we thought of a coffee shop,'' says Abadiano who is also the president of the Assisi Development Foundation.
Advocafé's coffees come from three tribes - the Igorot of Cordillera, Mangyan of Mindoro, and Talaandig of Mindanao. These are grown and processed by the tribe.
They also serve calamansi juice and unique hibiscus nectar by the Mangyan tribe of Mindoro who mix the sweet nectar of gumamela with calamansi juice, spring water, and wild honey. There is also corn coffee from the Mangyan tribe, and different herbal teas produced by the Tagbanuas of Palawan.
For years now, Ilawan has been helping the tribes develop these products and improve its packaging.
''The reception from the customers is very positive. They are very impressed that we are offering products which are also healthy and organic. We don't sell sodas here because we also want to promote healthy and organic drinks and food to our customers,'' Abadiano shares.
The pastries and bread, which are also bestsellers, are baked and made by the café's all-katutubo crew.
Abadiano says that one of the selling points of Advocafé is that their products are very affordable. While most coffee shops sell their ridiculously overpriced cups of coffee, Advocafé sells their products at half the price of more expensive coffee shops. Most of their clients are professionals and students.
They recently opened their second branch in Mendiola, Manila and will soon open another one inside an office building.
The reception has been so good that there are already franchise inquiries. But Abadiano explains that it may not be profitable for franchise because 100 percent of the café's earnings go to the schools of Ilawan, among them the Pamulaan Center for Indigenous Peoples Education, a tertiary school exclusive for IPs, the first of its kind in Asia.
Twenty two-year-old Kenneth Campos Ramada of the Bagobo Tribe of Davao is one of Pamulaan Center's graduates who works at the café as manager. Ramada graduated with degree in Applied Anthropology, but not after rendering the required volunteer service.
Although he plans to pursue a career in Anthropology in the future, Ramada believes that working in the café has a greater purpose than just acquiring new skills. He also wants to help dispel misconceptions about IPs.
''May iba na nagugulat kasi 'yung iba ang concept ng katutubo, maitim, kulot ang buhok. 'Yung iba hindi naniniwala pero may iba naman na aware na naappreciate nila ang ginagawa namin. Masaya kami kasi siguro isa 'yun sa mga purpose kung bakit kami nilagay dito,'' he shares.
Abadiano says that this is the ultimate goal of Advocafé, to educate the people about the IPs. They did not open just to sell coffee but to inform people about the beautiful culture of the country's IPs.
''Kasi mababa pa ang pagtingin ng ibang Pilipino sa mga katutubo. Kailangan makita nila ang kagandahan kung ano ang kultura ng katutubo at kanilang pagkatao,'' Abadiano stresses.
Since the coffee shop was started, the products have slowly penetrated the market. In fact, they are already in the development of improving their coffee products because they will soon export them.
''The IPs are very grateful kasi nagkaroon sila ng market at nakikilala sila. Kaya gusto naming 'yung brand nila hindi lang 'yung Advocafé brand. Advocafé is just a vehicle where the IP products may be patronized,'' Abadiano says.
Coffee culture has evolved from the just drinking a cup of coffee or tea to hanging out and sharing stories among friends and families. As it keeps growing, Advocafe is already redefining this culture making it much more relevant and educational.